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Friday, December 26, 2008

Interview with Dave Giusti, Freepath: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Dave Giusti, Community Manager for myFreepath. myFreepath is a network of people who exchange content through playlists created in Freepath. With Freepath, you can share your favorite media with a private group or a worldwide audience without having to struggle with file conversions or FTP. It is not necessary to upload, convert, or embed. All one has to do is drag and drop.

Hi Dave, Welcome to E-Learning Queen. How did you get involved with Freepath?

Prior to joining Freepath, I was an Engineering manager at Google for close to 4 years on the AdWords team. I discovered Freepath as a user.

What do you see as the most useful aspect of Freepath?

The ability to utilize a variety of file types and media to tell a story. Freepath provides an iTunes-like player for the everyday digital story-teller to show common types of content in a seamless and meaningful way. Content that includes traditional desktop files, multimedia and web content. To be able to interact with such a diverse set of content is very powerful.

Let me give you an example. Think about a person who is going to present on the recent election. The content and media that was generated from the election was extremely rich and available in numerous formats: YouTube videos, candidate websites, reports in PDF format and digital pictures of demonstrations and rallies generated by the media. Think about a flat linear presentation consisting solely of slides with a focus of giving an overview of the election. Now, contrast that with a presentation created in Freepath.

A presentation that perhaps would begin with the cheers of a crowd, followed by sound bites of candidates espousing their positions, slides outlining their credentials, digital pictures displaying the passion on all sides! It is Freepath’s ability to pull from a wide range of digital content, enabling it to interact seamlessly that makes it such a powerful tool. Freepath gives the presenter the tools to create something that is above and beyond what audiences have come to expect in a presentation.

How does Freepath compare to other integrative applications?

Freepath occupies a unique space. When I look at where Freepath lives, I see a cross section of areas: Presentation software (PowerPoint, Keynote, Ovation), Online Collaboration tools (LiveMeeting, Intercall, WebEx, GoToMeeting) and Broadcast and Communication (YouTube, Skype, Ustream). Freepath extends the power of these applications; it is a dynamic solution for face-to-face presentations as well as for web communications. We have a user who says that Freepath makes him feel like the wizard behind the curtain. The ability to pull together different media types then present over the web or in a classroom is very powerful. Adding the ability to share this diverse collection of digital media in the form of a playlist for collaboration or information dissemination makes it that much more compelling!

How do you envision using it in training and webinars?

I see Freepath similar to a toolbox. The user fills up the tool box with instruments used to create. In the Freepath world, these tools take the form of video, documents, websites, and digital files. The trainer has in mind what she would like to create; a message to convey. However, in a dynamic environment such as a classroom or a meeting, questions arise; the direction of discourse changes. The presenter needs to be able to change course on the fly or perhaps repeat a previous point to underline it. Freepath gives the presenter this power and flexibility. In Freepath, there is a prep mode where you drag and drop your media: websites, videos, sound, documents, and slides. The interface has been described as an iTunes-like player. It is intuitive and easy to use…just drag and drop!

The audience is either viewing a second monitor or through a projector in full mode.
As the presenter moves through the presentation, she has the ability to move in a non-linear way if desired. Giving the ability to move between a mash-up of digital media; responding dynamically to the audience and to the content. If the presenter is displaying a website, she has the ability to unlock the screen and select links to dig deeper within the site. The user can manipulate numbers in an excel spreadsheet, add or delete text to a document, then lock the screen to move forward (or backwards) through the presentation.

What is your relation to Freepath? Why do you believe in it?

Freepath has a companion website called myFreepath. It is a place to share, collaborate and discover content. I am the myFreepath Community Manager. As Lou Douros, Freepath co-founder, says, “I am there to protect and promote.” myFreepath user gets 100mb of free storage for their .play files; this is the format of a saved playlist. myFreepath users can invite friends and contacts, create groups that can be private or public and upload and download content. The myFreepath community is growing every day. We are starting to see teachers create groups to share and exchange subject matter, trainers providing best of class information for their constituents, and sales teams exchanging product collateral. The exciting thing for me is to see how people have adopted Freepath and myFreepath into their work flow and communication channels.

Susan, let me give you an example. Say you are pulling together some training material: four PowerPoint slides, a video, some photos you shot on a digital camera, a PDF and a few Word docs. You finished your training session and it was a success; so much so, that some of the attendees expressed an interest in accessing the class data for future reference or perhaps to share it with colleagues.

You export the playlist in Freepath 2.0 into a .play format (all the assets/files are contained there) and upload it to myFreepath. Perhaps you create a group that includes the class attendees. Every person in your group now has access to your playlist - right from their installation of Freepath 2.0. As the creator of the playlist, you have the option to keep the playlist private, only accessible by the members of your group or make it public. myFreepath is place to go to discover content, collaborate with others or to share your content. We will continue to expand the myFreepath experience; there is a lot on the horizon!

We have a Freepath update in the weeks to come with some really cool new features and functionality. Stay tuned!

If you would like to see Freepath in action, check out the 90 second tour:

Freepath gives people a new way to present. Pulling a variety of file types into a presentation (movies, PowerPoint slides, websites, PDFs, etc) and then moving between these files in a non-linear, dynamic way really took the idea of presenting to a whole new level for me.

We have a user, a trainer, who likes to say “I’m not cool, but my content is.” This really underlines the strength of Freepath. The linear slide presentation that we have all had to endure in meetings and classrooms is not the only option anymore. The ability to use exciting, vibrant and compelling content in your presentations and classrooms is a reality with Freepath.

In addition to Freepath, we offer users 100mb of free online storage at It is a community built around content; sharing, collaborating, discovering. There is a mountain of content out there in different formats. The Freepath community helps push the best content to the top and then make the presentation of that content seamless and flexible.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Premier Student Loans – Making the Grade Affordable

It's often been said that student loans are among the most honest and honorable debts you can incur (along with car loans and home mortgages), because it's a debt that helps provide a better future for you and your family, as opposed to credit cards that merely allow you to spend beyond your means.

Just as every student picks a university and course of study that are tailored to their personality and interests, so too do you need a student loan that fits your needs. Some loans, like Perkins and Stafford loans, are offered as part of a school's financial aid package, which are not just one loan, but are usually comprised of a combination of loans, grants (Pell Grants, for example), scholarships, and work-study programs, but in our current economic climate, with public colleges and universities, financial aid is more and more difficult to come by, even for students with perfect academic records. It is for this reason that private financing exists.

One source of such financing is This site isn't just a portal for loan applications, and it isn't a direct lender, either. Instead, it's a virtual encyclopedia of everything you always wanted to know about student loans, from explanations of what each kind of loan does, and who provides them, to how you can maximize your student's educational dollar by helping them not get into the credit card habit. There's even a section on what happens after college, and how you can help your son or daughter prepare for the inevitable moment when they must begin paying off all the money that was borrowed to cover their education.

Of course, also wants to help you find the extra money you need to make sure your child's college experience is as stress free – at least financially – as possible. This is why they also offer a student loan matching service. It works similarly to the way you might request a quote on insurance, with four basic steps:

1. You complete a short, online form that asks for basic information.

2. You confirm that you really want the information, and affirm that it's okay for to contact you via email.

3. Your information is transmitted securely, and analyzed to find lenders who offer what you need.

4. You are provided with information so that you can compare offers and contact the lender you select.

Best of all, all of this happens in only a few minutes, and you can do it all from your living room.
Financial aid packages are great, when they're offered, but if you need extra money to cover books and dorm fees, even after the tuition's been paid for, private financing is the way to go. To save time, and find reputable lenders, go to They always make the grade.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Interview with Gary Dietz, Elluminate -- Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Gary Dietz of Elluminate, a collaboration tool and platform that allows e-learning and training to bridge learning styles and to bring together diverse learners in effective, synchronous training that can be archived and used asynchronously.

1. What is your name and your relation to Elluminate?

My name is Gary Dietz and I am a Senior Product Manager for Elluminate. I am not the chief cook and bottle washer, but I cook and wash a lot of things.

2. What is Elluminate? What does it do? How does it work? Why do you believe in it?

Elluminate the company is focused on applying Internet technologies to help teachers and students teach and learn effectively, regardless of where they are. Elluminate is best know for Elluminate Live!, our main product.

Elluminate Live! maps the collaboration available in a physical classroom – things like talking, seeing one another, shared writing surfaces, break-out groups, shared web browsing, watching film clips – and delivers those same kind of highly interactive activities to groups of teachers and students regardless of whether they are in the same room, the same town, or a continent away.

Elluminate has other products that are concerned with planning for these live interactions, recording interactive sessions for later on-demand viewing, and for making Elluminate work with other eLearning environments like Blackboard and Moodle. I believe in Elluminate because after working in the real-time collaboration space for about 13 years, I have never seen a for-profit team so dedicated toward meeting the needs of a large swath of public and private educational needs.

3. What is the philosophy of Elluminate?

It sounds kind of corny, but our "No User Left Behind" philosophy really encapsulates what we all do every day in our roles at Elluminate. Yes, we are a for profit entity. However, we have a dedicated team of engineers, support staff, and marketing folks (many of whom have come from academia) listening to, and responding as best we can, to the needs of K-12, university, and corporate educators wherever they are and with whatever abilities they possess. Not only that, but for a small company, we have tremendous support for non-profit activities and organizations with over 100 organizations in our Community Partner Program such as NACOL, CIDER, LINGOs, CILC, and the NSTA. Also, our vRoom program allows free, unlimited use of a full version of Elluminate Live (limited to 3 connections at one time).

4. Who benefits from Elluminate? How? Why?

Students benefit from Elluminate, whether those students are K-12, university, adult, or professional learners. Look, it is easy to say that our product helps everyone who is exposed to it, but I won’t do that. What I will do is say that if you have a learner who is motivated (by themselves or their support system), the Elluminate Learning Suite of products will allow instruction to occur in many places and in many ways that would not have been possible without Elluminate. Do we do that alone? Of course not. But with teachers, administrators, parents, and public servants who realize that education needs to change, together we can learn what works best and implement best practices that bring true collaborative learning to more people in more places in ways equal to or better than traditionally available. And many times, at lower cost.

5. What differentiates Elluminate's products from free video conferencing with, say, Skype?

At the 41,000 foot level, most "real time collaboration" products connect people. How they do it, why they do it, whom they are doing it for, and in what context it is deployed is the difference.

At the top level, here are a few things. The Elluminate Learning Suite was designed with pedagogical tools specific to teachers and learners. Not as a consumer video chat tool (such as Skype, which is a great product and I use too) or a business to business "slideware plus phone" product like many other real-time tools on the market.

And it isn’t just the tools, it is the infrastructure. The Elluminate Learning Suite integrates into the way K-12 and University learning programs are designed – from single login to CMS/LMS centered to being able to handle dozens or hundreds of people in a session. And how the deployments are supported and how PD is provided is a major differentiator for an education focused company like Elluminate.

6. How does Elluminate encourage students and instructors to interact?

Elluminate as a company introduces features and free or for-pay professional development that critically examines best practices on how to use our, and others’, tools in classrooms with various constituencies. So, whether it is our free live or recorded moderator training, our free vRoom program, our free, regional Elluminate Community Conferences for face to face sharing, our Product Advisory Councils, our Centers of Excellence program, or the many free webinars we run every quarter, Elluminate is all about interaction between and amongst professionals and helping them interact better with their students. eLearning tools can be, but needn’t be, cold, monolithic, and inhuman. In fact, working exclusively online with student, teachers, administrators, and community members can, when done correctly, provide interaction that is likely more interactive than even face to face.

Let me use an example. Suppose a learner’s English skills are not as good as some of his or her classmates. By being able to participate online in real time not only are some of the "fear" barriers lowered, but additional channels of text chat, possible second language real-time closed captioning, and the ability to record and review later are available in ways that may not be so easily be made available solely in a brick and mortar classroom.

In my personal experience, groups of people who are too scared to ask questions in a brick and mortar classroom are more than willing and able to ask, via text chat or hand-raising in a virtual session.

7. Where and how does your vision encourage creativity, innovation, and leadership?

Our executive leadership is extraordinarily interested in changing the world through education. This is reflected in the makeup of our team and in our ability to address customer needs in ways that companies of a different size or a different vision would not be able to do. Don’t confuse that with lack of desire to be profitable. We certainly have achieved that and continue to require that. But profitability in this space is not achieved through myopic micromanagement or selling stuff that doesn't solve problems. It is achieved by unleashing people at all levels in the organization to solve small and large customer challenges. Our vision is to change the educational landscape, and we need to both listen to mavericks and lead them as appropriate.

8. Here's an extension of the previous question -- How can Elluminate help rebuild America / the world?

That’s a broad question, and I’ll make it even broader and rephrase a bit. We are an international company and we want to be part of the solution space of the challenges we have in delivering education to young students, engage university students, enhance adult learners opportunities, and bring lifelong learners new opportunities to enrich their lives. We strive to make a difference on a global level, particularly in areas where opportunities for communication, collaboration, and education have been sorely lacking.

Our Fire and Ice initiative demonstrates this quite dramatically. As far as the US is concerned, our focus on accessibility, in particular, addresses the No Child Left Behind initiative in a very powerful way. In fact, in South Carolina, where it’s now mandated that a distance education program contain 25% face-to-face learning, Elluminate has been recognized as meeting that requirement.

Only by distributing instructional excellence in better ways to places it already exists and by bringing instructional excellence to places it has never been will we together make the world a better place.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Interview with Dheeraj Mahtani, Faronics -- E-Learning Innovators Interview Series

Welcome to an interview with Dheeraj Mahtani of Faronics, developers of Insight, a collaborative learning environment which can be used in computer labs or in distributed applications.

1. What is your name and your relation to Faronics?

Dheeraj Mahtani, Marketing Communications Specialist

2. What is Faronics? What does it do? How does it work? Why do you believe in it?

Faronics is a software company that specializes in delivering system control solutions to the education, library, corporate, and government verticals. Our products are designed to help organizations manage, simplify, and secure their computing environments. We were made famous by Deep Freeze, our flagship product that eliminates IT helpdesk requests by making computer configurations indestructible. More recently, we’ve been garnering a significant amount of attention thanks to Power Save, our software solution that provides IT with centralized control of workstation power settings.

3. What is the philosophy of Faronics?

Faronics is driven by a desire to deliver a trouble-free computing experience by solving real world computing problems that threaten user productivity, system integrity, and organizational efficiency.

4. Who benefits from Faronics? How? Why?

Faced with shrinking budgets, educators are being asked to do more with less. Faronics has several solutions that can help.

Insight’s ability to turn standard computer labs into collaborative learning environments has helped teachers become better educators with the tools they already have. Insight allows teachers to assist, monitor, and communicate with an entire class from one central computer. Teachers can share their screen with students, control student access to applications, websites, or peripherals, and monitor classroom activity to ensure students are on task. Students can communicate with the teacher, receive assistance, and respond to class polls right from their computer.

Our award-winning Deep Freeze software eliminates workstation damage and downtime by making computer configurations indestructible. Daily user activity inevitably alters a computer’s configuration to the point where it suffers from system slowdowns and crippled functionality. Deep Freeze prevents this configuration drift from taking place by ensuring any changes made to the computer—regardless of whether they are accidental or malicious—are never permanent. Users can still save their data while the workstation remains protected.

Anti-Executable protects workstations from unwanted software by preventing unauthorized executables from running or installing. Any other programs—whether they are unwanted, unlicensed, or simply unnecessary—are blocked from ever executing. Educators no longer need to worry about students installing games, instant messaging clients, and peer-to-peer file sharing programs on classroom computers.

Power Save uses intelligent power management to ensure workstations are saving energy and money when they are not being used. Our latest version features a new centralized software deployment and management utility and enhanced power consumption and savings reporting. The average return-on-investment for Power Save is a mere four months, and many schools are even receiving Power Save for free thanks to rebates provided by local power authorities.

5. What differentiates Faronics's products from others?

Every Faronics product focuses on delivering absolute control of computing environments—whether it be delivering total workstation reliability to IT, complete classroom control to educators, or intelligent energy management to organizations. By ensuring 100% workstation availability, dependability, and control, our products have freed IT personnel from tedious technical support and software issues.

6. How does Faronics encourage students and instructors to interact? Does Faronics help special needs students, or students with disabilities? How?

Insight enhances the learning experience for students by turning standard computer labs into interactive learning environments. Students are able to request and receive help directly in their workstation session, and appreciate the discretion that the instructor chat feature offers. They can discuss course material and ask questions without leaving their workstations and without disturbing other students. The anonymity that the voting feature provides students allows them to often provide a more accurate answer to questions posed to the class.

With Insight, teachers can easily launch applications and websites on all student workstations from a central teacher console. By blanking student screens, teachers can lock students out of their computers when they should be paying attention, and can monitor multiple student computers through Insight’s thumbnail viewing feature.

7. Where and how does your vision encourage creativity, innovation, and leadership?

As a customer-centric organization, Faronics’ products are researched and developed in close consultation with our end-users. We value our customer’s ideas and suggestions, and depend on this feedback to provide the innovative solutions our users have come to rely on. This approach is the basis for Faronics’ industry-leading customer service strategy, continually working to build and maintain lasting relationships with our users.

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